Taking in the chilly sea air from a cafe just up from the Margate seafront, Ghostpoet is worlds away from the grey metropolis that fuelled new album ‘Dark Days & Canapés’. Moving to the up-and-coming seaside town with his wife at the end of 2016, Obaro Ejimiwe then spent every day travelling through the Kent countryside back up to his London studio on the train, as if to emphasise the distance between the world he left behind and the one he now inhabits.
Walking down along the seafront past the Turner museum and a section of the promenade that Obaro warns is particularly whiffy with seaweed, he’s greeted by new friends what seems like every ten steps - it’s clear he’s having no trouble settling in his new home. “I ate chips every day for my first month here,” he smirks, gesturing across the road to his chosen chippy, “but it got a bit much, so I’m weaning myself off them now”.
‘Dark Days & Canapés’ is the darkest we’ve seen Ghostpoet; a bleak but brilliantly cutting social commentary that permeates the anxiety that’s spreading like wildfire across the planet after an increasingly baffling period in global politics. It’s something Obaro tried to tap into, while also feeling thoroughly affected by such things without even trying.
“There’s so much to take in and digest at the moment - the migrant crisis, global warming, backwards politics - and at the same time I’m really wrestling with mortality.”
“I’m trying to capture the period of time [the album] was made in, across the course of the last year, where obviously a lot of things have been happening,” he begins, with an unmistakable wry smile. “There’s so much to take in and digest at the moment - the migrant crisis, global warming, backwards politics - and at the same time I’m really wrestling with mortality.”
‘Dark Days…’ is a record that teams the personal and the political brilliantly, while also serving as a reminder that the two constantly interweave in every single person, and that such tangled feelings are unavoidable. “I’m getting older,” Obaro picks back up, “and you get to a point in life where society has taught you that you should be doing certain things by this point, be it marriage, kids, mortgage, and you start to question what you’ve actually done with your life. Have I done enough, especially with everything going on around me?”
Musing on the topic of getting older - Obaro is in his mid-thirties as ‘Dark Days & Canapés’ is released - he’s looking down other avenues to widen his output. One of his ideas is starting a radio station down in Margate, but there’s something that keeps the one-time Mercury Prize judge coming back to the idea of an album.
“Even though we’re living in a world where people are buying less and less records,” he offers, with an infectious confidence in his voice, “it’s like a throwback for me. All the people I love made records - made albums - and that’s all I wanna do with my music. I just might give myself more time in between to do other stuff.”
“Have I done enough, especially with everything going on around me?”
Starting out with first album ‘Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam’ in 2011, Obaro - and no artist ever, truthfully - wouldn’t ever be thinking about albums four, five and six at that point, but there’s a truly human concrete base that’s remained constant throughout his career, and the only boundary he sets himself. “When I was given the opportunity to make my first record, I thought to myself, ‘what do I want to do with this?’ and the answer was - and has always been since - that I want to be truthful,” he says, citing Leonard Cohen as one of his biggest influences, and the fuel behind his desire to keep evolving, just within his parameters of honesty.
There’s no danger of ‘Dark Days & Canapés’ lacking honesty though - from front to back, it paints a picture of 2017 Britain and beyond better than almost any record released so far this year. Despite being borne out of intense, anxiety-inducing times, and channelling bucketloads of this universal dread, it comes at a comfortable, positive time in Ghostpoet’s career. From the Mercury-nominated ‘Shedding Skin’ through his most successful tours to date and his move down to Margate, Obaro is settling into a career that hasn’t wildly deviated or blown up suddenly. It’s a trajectory that suits him, and has seen subtle textures added to each next album that add to the story rather than rewriting the script.
We might have to wait a while for the next Ghostpoet album - we’ll see how this radio station idea takes off - but with ‘Dark Days & Canapés’ he’s further solidified his place as one of Britain’s most intriguing songwriters, and provided an album of anthems for those who can’t quite cope with these dark times.
Ghostpoet’s new album ‘Dark Days & Canapés’ is out now via PIAS.
Photos: Emma Swann